Pushing The Boundaries At Kasba
By Mike Borger
A Far North Fly Fishing Adventure
Located within the Northwest Territories of Canada, Kasba Lake stretches over 46 miles long from end to end and over 24 miles at its widest point. Renowned as a producer of giant fish, Kasba Lake Lodge has been pumping out trophy lake trout, pike and arctic grayling since they first opened their doors for business in 1975.
Arctic grayling aside, Kasba typically hasn’t been a preferred destination for fly fisherman – but times are changing. In recent years a core group of devoted fly anglers in search of new chal-lenges have been focusing their attention on Kasba’s bounty.
Kevin McGrath of Roswell Georgia is one such angler. Since 2007 Kevin and his fly-flinging co-horts including renowned casting instructor Mack Martin have travelled here in search of colos-sal fish. In the process they’ve pushed the fly fishing boundaries and the results have been astonishing.
The Game Is Afoot!
Early in the season giant pike are easy targets as they’re clustered within the numerous spawn-ing bays spread all over the lake. With crystal clear water, clean bottom and little weed growth the fish are simple to spot and fly fishing becomes more of a hunt.
Skimming across the placid surface of the lake Kevin and his guide made an early morning run to Boundary Bay in the south end of the lake. Here in the shallow backwaters a creek filters in – a prime spot for spawning pike. Many of the bays have a hard packed sand bottom and are easi-ly wadeable and Boundary is no exception. Always in waders Kevin clambered out of the boat and creeping along slowly began to work the water methodically on foot with his fly rod. Among pike hunters anything over 40″ is considered a trophy and over the years Kevin has bested many that size at Kasba. Still…he was searching for something more. Casting an oversized Clouser Minnow past a clump of newly emerging weed, a long dark shape materialized behind his fly. Pausing momentarily the streamer hung motionless in the water column and the pike charged forward flaring its gills and sucking in his offering. Lifting the rod sharply to drive the hook home the water erupted in spray. Standing in shallow water tethered to a large angry esox is akin to back room bare knuckle brawling: It’s savage, violent, and usually over quickly. Reeling madly to gather the loose coils of line onto his reel he raised the rod high as the giant pike zipped its way through the water, slicing strands of weed in the process. Applying pressure he soon had the fish subdued and slid neatly into the waiting cradle. Thick, fat and perfectly proportioned it taped out at 46″ – a personal best at Kasba!
A Milestone Met
Fishing for lake trout at Kasba generally falls into one of two categories. Either light tackle an-gling for large numbers of thick bodied fish in the 6-12 pound class, or trolling deep water with oversized lures and heavy tackle for one or two behemoth’s. As a fly angler Kevin’s primary fo-cus has been light tackle sport, but nothing is ever etched in stone.
One memorable early season outing saw him plying his craft where the Schwandt River pours into the big lake. Here the rolling sandy bottom sucks up heat from the sun and the oxygenated water attracts dense clouds of baitfish. The trout of course are never far behind. Using a 9 weight fly rod with an intermediate sinking line Kevin caught a number of girthy hard fighting trout slowly stripping in his purple and pink egg sucking leech. Cast, catch, rinse and repeat – it was the type of fast paced fishing that Kasba is known for. Then something different happened. In mid strip the fly stopped dead. “I think” he muttered “I’m hung on the bottom.” The bottom however began to move. Really large trout have an unhurried nonchalance about them and this fish was no different. Wide, slow head shakes transmitted up the light graphite wand which by now was bent from tip to butt. Four times Kevin painstakingly worked the big fish in close only to have it sound for the bottom ripping yards of line from his reel taking him all the way to his back-ing. The fish was tiring though and slowly but surely he gained ground. Fifteen minutes after hooking the fish he slipped it into the waiting net and another milestone was reached. 28 pounds on the guides scale, it was the largest laker he’d ever caught on the fly rod.
Larger trout have a decidedly carnivorous bent – they’re meat eaters. Usually this means plying deeper water with streamers, however there are some notable exceptions. Early in Kasba’s sea-son there’s a caddis hatch which occurs among the rocky shallows. Conditions need to perfect though with little or no wind, and early one morning Kevin found them. Gliding into a rocky neck-down between two islands the glass smooth surface of the lake was shattered by numerous trout rising and dimpling as they fed on the emerging flies. Casting a #8 stimulator – a high floating at-tractor pattern, he caught crazy numbers of fat trout. Not huge specimens, they averaged 6-8 pounds, but a ton of fun and on dry flies to boot. Beaten up by fish after two solid hours of fast paced action he packed away his rod. “I think” he said, eyeing a thermos of hot coffee, “I need a break!”
Later in August there’s another noteworthy pattern that many of Kasba’s guests take advantage of. Called the “cisco hatch” it’s actually a gathering en masse of the baitfish in shallow water as they prepare to spawn. Kevin and his compadres have enjoyed breathtaking action stripping small poppers across the surface in the midst of the melee. The takes are savage. In Kevin’s words “I think the trout see it as a stunned cisco floating on the surface. Sometimes they leap clear out of the water to pounce on our poppers from above!”
A New World Record
If there ever was a fish tailor made for fly fishing it’s the arctic grayling. Abundant and aggressive they take flies readily and offer incredible sport on light tackle. Kasba is a noted hotbed. While they’re found in large numbers in the lake itself the real attraction here is the Kazan River. A Ca-nadian Heritage River with Kasba Lake at its headwaters the Kazan is well named. In Inuk lan-guage Kazan translates to “place of much fast flowing water”, and that’s precisely what it is. Kasba offers regular fly-outs to its guests wanting to experience the incredible fishing on the riv-er. It’s a highlight for many anglers Kevin included.
Last summer Kevin and his friend Jim found themselves along the banks of the Kazan once again. Picking their way along the cobbled riverbank they caught grayling after grayling. Some-times dead drifting small dry flies, other times dapping bead head nymphs on a short line in the calm backwaters at their feet. Time and again grayling would slash at their flies instantly launch-ing themselves out of the water becoming airborne. It’s the type of fly fishing most anglers can only dream of and a common occurrence on this remarkable river. Late in the afternoon casting a tiny Chernobyl Ant Kevin enjoyed another enduring moment. Floating high in the surface film there was a tremendous boil and his tiny fly disappeared in a rush. Lifting his rod the response was electric, if this fish had hair it would’ve been standing on end. Lightning fast runs punctuated by powerful bulldogging in the heavy current, this fish seemed different – and it was. Finally beaching it on a gravel bar it was considerably larger than any other grayling they’d encountered. Normally not one to care a hoot about records Kevin was nonetheless curious. The fish taped out at 48 centimeters and was recorded for posterity before being released. Back home in Georgia he submitted his catch to the International Game Fish Association and it was accepted as a new world line class record. Something to be proud of for sure, but in Kevin’s words, “They’re a dime a dozen on the Kazan – I saw many more fish that were even larger!”
Kasba is a place that gets under your skin. Wild, windswept and beautiful it has an allure that draws anglers back year after year. Of course the fishing is pretty good too. In the case of Kevin McGrath the bar has now been set. “I love Kasba”, he mused, “the lodge, the staff, the scenery, it’s all as good as it gets”. “Lots of big fish too, but you know what? There’s plenty of bigger fish waiting to be caught and I’ll be back to get them!” He’s probably right.
I have been to Kasba 10 times and every trip seems like it is the best one. The fishing is always great but what separates Kasba from other lodges is the passion of the guides. The Hill family has established a great culture with their guides that is awesome.
Terrific fishing at a very well run lodge. Great people and a great experience. My 4th time visiting Kasba. Superb accommodations and meals. Great equipment and guides. Pike, grayling and lake trout on a magnificent lake.
Unbelievable trip. Unforgettable time and experience. The staff and guides are second to none. We were on trophy fish in no time at all. The accommodations were above expectations. I cannot wait to plan this trip again.